MEMBERS of the Senate blue ribbon committee can overturn the decision of Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd, panel chairman, not to resume the committee investigation of the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam until the committee finished evaluating an affidavit submitted by detained businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Sen. Sergio Osmeña, vice chairman of the blue ribbon committee, said if majority of the 17 members of the committee would vote in favor of the resumption of the Senate inquiry into the pork barrel scam even without evaluating the Napoles affidavit, the panel’s chairman is obliged to comply.
Osmeña was referring to recent press statements of Guingona in response to calls of some lawmakers for the committee to resume the PDAF scam probe in light of recent disclosures made by Napoles to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
Guingona, who is known to advocate transparency in the government, however, insisted in his statements that the “blue ribbon committee has opted to take the prudent course regarding the matter.”
“We will wait for [de Lima]to finish documenting the supposed [disclosures]of [Napoles]. Upon receipt of the affidavit of [Napoles] by the blue ribbon committee, the same will be evaluated before we make the final decision,” he said in his statements.
Osmeña said while the members of the panel usually let the chairman decide on certain issues, controversial matters like deciding on Napoles’ affidavit should be put to a vote.
The best move, he added, is for Guingona to call a caucus and discuss the matter among the members of the committee to weigh the advantages and disadvantages if the panel would decide to reopen the probe and invite Napoles again.
Osmeña said he is in favor of summoning Napoles in order for the panel to directly ask her about the scam and the personalities she had transactions with.
He added that lawmakers have valid reasons in recalling Napoles to the investigation because the announcement of de Lima and former senator and now rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson on the involvement of more than 100 lawmakers and ranking government officials in the scam made all of them suspects.
“So we want to clear the air, that is why I’m in favor to have Napoles summoned by the committee,” Osmeña said in a radio interview aired over dzBB.
Apart from de Lima and Lacson, Sandra Cam, president of the Association of Whistlebowers, also claimed that she has a copy of a supposed Napoles list that bares the names of lawmakers and government officials who had been involved in the pork scam.
But like de Lima and Lacson, Cam also refused to reveal the identities of the public officials included in the list, which raised doubts on the true existence of the so-called Napoles list.
Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago earlier raised suspicion about the alleged operation aimed at muddling the PDAF issue and diverting public attention from those individuals behind the multibillion-peso scam.
Cayetano said Napoles should face the public through the Senate immediately before the pork scam issue gets muddled even further.
But Sen. Grace Poe, a member of the blue ribbon panel, sees no need for the panel to evaluate the affidavit of Napoles to conduct a credible and effective hearing, saying success of the proceeding will depend largely on truthful testimonies of those involved.
“Personally, I think that with the willingness of Napoles to tell all, apparently, an independent Senate hearing will allow all to weigh in on the issue,” she added.
Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito, also a member of the panel, cited the need for the committee to continue the investigation and expand it to other non-government organizations (NGOs) that were also mentioned in a report of the Commission on Audit (COA).
He pointed out the that COA findings listed at least 80 NGOs involved in questionable transactions and so far only the 11 NGOs of Napoles are being investigated.
Osmena said the Senate can have the DOJ secretary submit to the Senate committee copies of the documents submitted to her by Napoles including a supposed list of lawmakers and other public officials linked to the scam.
He added that the blue ribbon committee can summon de Lima to submit to them the documents, which are material to the panel inquiry into the pork barrel scam.
The DOJ secretary, Osmena said, could be cited for withholding evidence, noting that de Lima does not have the power to make corrections or amendments to the documents given to her by Napoles.
“She [de Lima]can’t even say that she will review the affidavit first and determine its accuracy because it is made by Napoles,” he added.